Seize the Bonuses

After the massive Trump Tax Cut Cut Cut Cuts, a headline from the print edition of the pro-business Chicago Tribune  crowed the other day, “Workers Pleased with Big Bonuses.” Personally, last year I received two bonus checks. Neither of which sufficed for anything but a little extra survival money, but still… nice, right? On the overall, I was pleased with the bonuses. Who would be upset to learn they got a few extra hundred dollars lining their pockets, especially if their bank account isn’t big enough to hurdle the minimums at Bank of America?

The sweets bakery Hostess–after several layoffs and a-bottom-barrel-chase restructure to Mexico which slashed its US workforce by 6/7ths–gave  a one-time surplus of up to $1,250; 500 in the form of retirement funds, of course. Employees are also gifted with some Twinkies, I guess. Other generous companies giving $1K bonuses include BoA, Starbucks (which now lets its sick employees take the day off instead of infecting your Unicorn Frappes), American Airlines, AT&T, and Home Depot. (Is it conspiratorial to suggest that the Trump administration pushed for these bonuses as a way of storing up good favor with the Working Class for the tax cuts? No, not really.)

These are good companies, right? I can no longer call them Evil Corporations if they’re so nice, right? And we should be pleased.

Nah. Freak this ploy. We deserve so much more.

Recall that the only way Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, the Waltons, the Kochs, the Gates, the Carnegies, the Prince/DeVos’s, and the Trumps can get so goddamned rich is from extracting excess labor from workers and from the commodification of the public goods through exploitation. Through colonialism and worker exploitation. Add in the fact that the capitalists and their corporations are tremendously under-taxed despite the fact that the largest government expenses go to cover their needs. These expenses include the costs for a super-military needed for material extraction, market conquering, and other imperialist purposes;  for an infrastructure that makes doing Free Market business possible (and we see upfront evidence of this in how the new infrastructure plan will directly benefit the most wealthy); and for a welfare structure that, while presently being gutted as much as possible, is necessary so that the capitalist system can  afford to underpay their workers (cf, Bezos’s Amazon and the Waltons’ Walmart).

The deregulation of the welfare system, the dismantling of union power, and the privatization of the public sector under the post-Cold War Neoliberalism led by Thatcher, Reagan, the Bushes, Blair, the Clintons, and Obama has led to a stagnation in wages. Part of this stagnation in wages is due not only to a loss of gains in minimum wage, but also due to the reliance of benefits packages. This is where employers get to gloat over what the state should guarantee. Essentials such as sick time, maternity leave, retirement funding, and health insurance function as deterrents to raising wages, as funnels for tax support, as anchors to keep workers from considering leaving on their own terms, and as excessive points of contention for union negotiations. If the union is too busy hammering out deals for insurance, it loses leverage fighting for fairer hours, cash raises, and safer working conditions.

Of course, the package is altogether missing in the Gig Economy. Whether driving for Lyft, freelance writing, or teaching as an adjunct, so-called independent agents not only have no working rights, their wages are still depressed. So setting up full-time employment as the means towards these necessities rather than the state means that an increasing component of the working American society does not even have access to these bare necessities. That’s even if they have enough money to survive every month’s living and transportation expenses with a little left over for emergencies.

But the benefits package also serves another important function for these stank-dirty corporations: To make you feel grateful. Even if the feeling doesn’t last or necessarily conscious, it’s still a factor. And that factor increases when we consider these seemingly random or regularly-occurring gifts. They are presented to us as something above and beyond what we earned. And when you get a gift–whether it be coffee and doughnuts or cash bonuses–you instinctively feel you should return the favor.

But that’s just it, right? You’ve already earned much more than those doughnuts are worth. That cash bonus is but a mere fraction of the profit you’ve made for that company in the past few months, above your wages and other benefits.

You’ve been cheated out of tens of thousands of dollars every year, but yet you’re made to feel that your bosses are generous with your own money? That generosity emotionally tethers you to companies and bosses who exploit you, steal your labor, give you meaningless cog work, put you to work before you clock in and after you clock out, block you from organizing, and deny you workplace safety and rights as often as they can. But we should feel grateful for a $500 check once a decade or so. Right.

Add to this the fact that the tax breaks enriching these corporations by billions of dollars are also coming out of your pocket! Not just in the form of increased taxes (which will happen soon) but also in the face of a decreased welfare state and an increased bourgeois military state. A military that protects corporate interests does not protect the people, and the US military has always been about that corporate interest. The Department of Defense is functionally a publicly-funded private paramilitary.

In every conceivable way imaginable, the working class is paying the expenses for the Bezos’s of the world. Maybe we should be mad that we’re getting these crumbs.

Tweet from Representative Paul Ryan, Idiot. In it, he quotes from a story about the bonuses: “I have heard time and again that the middle class is getting crumbs, but I’ll take it.”

Seize the means and settle for nothing less.

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The Axioms of Evil

It’s been sixteen years since George W Bush and David Frum introduced to the neocon play action Axis of Evil speech¹ pointing out the three major powers that the US wanted to overthrow and colonize liberate from any semblance of self-rule: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea (DPRK). These were three nations that supposedly sponsored terrorism and were thus linked to the 9/11 attacks on US soil. An attack by a network not affiliated by any of these countries but instead by one of the US’s closest allies, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Since Iraq has already been dealt with, to put it crudely, and the Gears of War are turning on the other two due to either some protest or escalating nuclear tensions, it’s time for a some disjointed thoughts:

  • First, let’s dispel the false notion that there were millions of protesters in Iran calling for the overthrow of the government (and certainly that they want the United States to overthrow it). Several pictures of Brown-People-Protesting did go viral, but one of those was in Buenos Aires and another in Bahrain–two large-scale protests that Americans did not care about.
  • One of the main driving factors for the Iranian protests, as they are, has been economic. People protesting in the hundreds to thousands for a better standard of living, and against cuts to the social safety net, such as reductions in cash subsidies to the bottom 90%. How familiar does that sound to Americans? But in this case, we’re supposed to believe that Donald Trump and reactionary American elites are on the side of the protesters?
  • No one dared to raise the possibility of regime change during the millions-led Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration, a clear (but respectable) sign of dissatisfaction with the current regime by a significant percentage of the population.
  • No one dared suggest toppling DC after the #J20 protesters on the day of the Inauguration for protesting a little more loudly. In fact, the police kettled and arrested 200 such under false pretenses and have pressured most to either take a plea bargain (granting them a criminal record for either protesting or being adjacent to a protest) or face up to 80 years in prison. Some are still in jail or awaiting trial.
  • What country raised the possibility of invading the US during any of the Fight for $15 minimum wage demonstrations? These were longer, and involved tens of thousands of people, many literally leaving their work place during hours. And while several municipalities raised their minimum wages (after decades of stagnation), several states made it impossible for cities and counties to increase the minimum wage–despite the fact that cost-of-living substantially rise in urban areas and thus states should not be in charge of determining what is and is not livable. Missouri Republicans, for instance, forced St Louis to reduce the minimum wage by 20%! This was clearly a repressive state action. But again, silence.
  • Speaking of St Louis, where were the regime change callers when the Black Lives Matter protests kicked off? Thousands of oppressed people took to the streets demanding justice in the criminal justice system and its attendant policing. While the justice system started making minor accommodations to their demands, the current administration has worked overtime to turn back those concessions and several states have introduced bills that make it perfectly legal to run over protesters. Clearly, Black Lives do not matter to this regime.
  • But, if anything, the US is ignoring long-standing protests in South Korea against the US’s military presence and impending war.
  • Meanwhile, the US has given millions of dollars to support the right-wing government in Honduras, which killed dozens of protesters recently. When the Washington-backed President Juan Orlando Hernández was accused of rigging the elections in his favor, thousands took to the street. Dozens were killed, most directly by the narco military police units. In one scene, a group of unarmed protesters were shot down by the police who would tell the world that their victims were shooting back at them and thus they had no choice.

Relatives of the dead say they fear that there will be no justice over post-election violence: some say they have been threatened by troops; others point out that human rights prosecutions involving security forces are overseen by the same task force that helps coordinate [military police] operations.

  • North Korea at least is acting in a defensive position. Who does the US have to prove itself to? Who is threatening to destroy our entire country? What nation in the world has ever wiped off one-fifth of our people? (Not counting the original inhabitants because then the answer would be the United States.)
  • Who knew our president would use classic Orientalist tropes about Asian male sexuality IN A FUCKING TWEET?
  • South Korea (the Republic of Korea) began negotiating talks with the DPRK without US input. This angered Trump and Nikki Haley because it’s important for US interests (including Abe’s Japan) to make it look like Kim and the DPRK are unhinged and would never compromise; as if North Korea were the one making threats, despite all evidence to the contrary.
  • When the negotiations between North and South Korea to start talks began leaking, all of the US media focused on how divisive this would be, how it will end badly (for who?), and how Trump is taking credit (despite the fact that Nikki Haley just yesterday distanced the administration from the talks).
  • The United States’ two biggest allies in the Middle East do not allow for protests. It is illegal in Israel to display the Palestinian flag, and a group of more than five protesters is also violently prohibited. And we all know about the extensive human rights abuses in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Israel prevents movement in Gaza and shoots Palestinians trying to get away on boats. But you never hear of politicians condemning Israel or the KSA the way they do the DPRK and Iran.
  • If, however (and hear me out, please), Iran had a nuclear arsenal, the Trump administration would be much more likely to heed caution as they’re doing irt: North Korea.
  • There are some times when I truly wish that Trump actually was a stooge for Putin and Russia.
  • Meanwhile, in a country we’ve already conquered (my ancestral homeland): So far, at least one thousand Puerto Ricans have died and millions more at still at high-risk, without regular clean water or electricity as a result of Hurricane Maria and the US’s abysmal response. Clearly, we do not have a good track record of supporting our colonies², so why should we have a right to talk to or about Iran or Korea?

¹ In what the Washington Post dubbed the Fourth Best State of the Union Address ever.

² Yes, that is the point of colonialism, after all….

Suppression, Revolution, and Commodification: On Baby Boomers and Millennials

The ongoing flame wars between Greedy Baby Boomers and Entitled Millennials is not only  tiring (its roots lay some 25 years ago when mainstream media dubbed us Gen X’ers “Slackers”), it lacks deeper analysis in need of some old fashioned dialectical materialism. Because the problem isn’t so much the people, but the conditions.

Let’s start with the coming-of-age of Boomers. The Post-War years brought along unheralded prosperity due in no small part to added productivity in the global economy (what with the US sitting out most of this war between Empires only to clean out on top at the tail end) and a large swath of the population missing. Semi-skilled labor, due to the work or threats of unionization, finally delivered living wages and a level of comfort unknown for the Working Class. Or, shall we say, the White Working Class, as Black and other non-White populations were denied entrance to many of the mechanizations of prosperity–such as drastically increased wages, accessible higher education, and the expansion of home ownership in the sprawling suburbs. The fact that the suburbs were sprawling and that home ownership there was so available was the work of a federal government once again expanding the terms of settler-colonialism through the mechanisms of the nation-state including reduced fuel prices and expanded interstate projects coupled with a new form of Homestead Act.

The benefits of the White Working Class mediated a distinction brought about by commerce and the bourgeois government that would lead to the creation of a large and placated White Middle Class to buffer against dispirited Working Class people. Higher social mobility through the GI Bill coupled with geometric mobility, allowing a large White Flight from the urban areas, where the new White Middle Class and industries were able to transport wealth gotten through wage theft of the working class Black and White people of the city. The same remnant working class people were stagnated in urban ghettos such as, in Chicago, Uptown or Bronzeville. Meanwhile, higher-paid White WC and Black Entrepreneurs moved to their own racially and class-segregated neighborhoods to act as yet another buffer. Because White Supremacist Capitalism thrives on buffers and interruptions. And so it’s important to note that any critique of the Baby Boomer generation as a whole is woefully inadequate, as it misses many of those purposefully left behind in this new ecology.

This social and capital mobilization was imprinted for the benefit of welcoming a White Baby Boom for the manufacturing and consumption of consumptive goods, the bread and butter of American capitalism. The rising Middle Class Baby Boomers were raised in this atmosphere, but globally and locally something else was happening: revolution was in the air. While many people give White hippies (the children of the rising White Middle Class in the US) credit for the burgeoning revolutionary spirit of the 1960’s, the reductionism is particularly nationalistic and racist. Revolutions against imperialist capitalism were happening throughout the under-developed world and were finally coming to a head in the 1950’s. Whether China, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, or India and the entirety of the European colonized in Africa, people of color throughout the world were unshackling themselves from Western hegemony, often at great cost. The Washington, Belgian, and corporate influence could be felt at the peak of the bullet and bomb through Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Black America in the US South and Urban North. Other formerly-colonized began to rise up and stand their ground, including the Chicano and American Indian Movements while women (famously-but-not-solely White women in the US) were simultaneously struggling for social, economic, and sexual liberation (as all three are interconnected).

It was in this frame of the liberatory organizing of the Black and Brown proletariat that the occasional White ally would arise and, due to the power of Whiteness, would somehow amass a substantial amount of the credit. While not in the same vein as the FBI taking credit for dismantling lynching White Supremacist vigilante groups during the Civil Rights Movement, it’s clear that dues owed White allies such as the Weathermen during this time may be overrepresented.

Yet, the rise of radicalism in White Middle Class Baby Boomers was an effect of the times that were a-changing. Being White and affluent, they had more direct influence and it was harder to ignore these would-be class-and-race-traitors (in the most complimentary of tones). The way they would be silenced would be different from the silencing of Black and Brown radicals throughout the world and domestically. Key leaders of the Black civil rights, anti-war, and liberation movements were assassinated and the movements as a whole underwent severe repression on all fronts that the full lethal force of the federal and local police (and aiding vigilantes) and judicial system as well as economic depression, psychological and social warfare. It’s increasingly easy to argue that they had a hand in flooding our neighborhoods with illicit drugs and guns (while maintaining .the strict prison industry that severely punishes Black and Brown communities for obtaining or holding such).

The White Middle Class retreated back to the life they were raised to occupy, to take over the mechanizations of industry. To further expand the unsustainable economic growth they sought, they helped to usher in Ronald Reagan’s Neoliberal state (aka, the Final Stage of Capitalism).  They commodified public works and turned stable and previously accessible goods into get-rich schemes. They dismantled the welfare state, the collective organizing, and the infrastructure which had enabled their transition into the comfortable Middle Class. They also helped to dismantle Affirmative Action which had temporarily expanded a Black Middle Class.

So this exponential growth necessitated the dismantling of the means to that growth. Once the capitalist class established enough buffers and re-stole all the wealth they could (in a time of tremendous economic growth, the top ten percent came away with 99% of it, leaving the working and middle class with one percent) while exponentially increasing the cost of living.  The very stolen wealth has become its own buffer. And the Petty Bourgeois White Baby Boomers, who have already entered into a comfortable retirement, seem blissfully unaware that the next generation faces the void of the disparity between the standards of living of the Baby Boomer generation and the cost of living in the new millennium.

You see, a dialectical materialism will tell you that it’s not Boomers or Millennials you should be angry with, it’s Capitalism and Whiteness.

Thanksgiving, the National Myth-Making

Thanksgiving is a collective remembering of a national myth. National myths are ahistorical stories that we retell over and over to and about ourselves as a people.

While they may be ahistorical, as though they didn’t happen in a specific time and date and place, national myths are important. They help preserve culture, connections, and kinship and help guard against those things that tear us apart. They can be a bulwark against oppression and suppression, ways of remembering the best of ourselves when the world and empire strike against us. The Torah, for example, is a national myth about Hebrew and Jewish people and their identity that often sets them apart and unique, even as many of the stories are adapted from local myths and legends and then reframed for a different context, a people who imagined themselves differently. Indigenous people throughout the world celebrate and remember national myths. The Iroquois had myths that the Puritans considered dangerous in their encounters. Schools were established to “Kill the Indian and save the Man” by driving out Hopi, Sioux, and other indigenous languages, customs and myths. So recalling those myths are important resistance to white settler colonialism.

We’re very familiar with the dangerous side of national myths, however, such as Hitler’s regurgitation the National Myth of Germany through Wagner, Nietzsche, and antisemitic and racist tropes. And the National Myth of the United States being founded as a paragon of freedom and liberty is especially pernicious in the face that its Founding Fathers denied women the right to vote and held black people as literal pieces of property.

Image result for charlie brown thanksgiving table

But it is more important what we do with our national myths and whether we are willing to interrogate them, especially if, like in the States, it is one of genocide and chattel slavery disguised as kindness and civilization.

Thanksgiving as a whole has its moments. It is a time to spend with family–whether biological or chosen or a mix of both–and a time to practice gratitude, which can be revolutionary in an atmosphere of consumption. But then it’s followed by a day expressly for the purpose of hyper-consumptive capitalism. It’s no mistake then that the main mythos narrative of Thanksgiving is of settler colonialism.

The narrative of a friendly dinner with the natives is a ritualized hand-off of the land and its bounties from the original occupants to the settlers, who now rightfully belong. How fitting that dinner is situated around a land-occupying sport like American football with one of the teams named the Cowboys–another powerful settler-colonial myth about the rugged Anglo individual who tames the Wild West and vanquishes the savage American Indian. It’s also telling that next week, the Cowboys will be playing the Redsk*ns, a specifically genocidal slur against American Indians.

I would argue it is time to confront, rather than run from, what this national remembrance means. To interrogate it as Jewish people do the Torah. To recognize the role it has played in our society and how we use it to erase and murder Native peoples here. And then to set about to make corrections.

Whattaboutism & Chicago

“What About Chicago” is a widely-used bait/distraction from rightwingers and racists whenever the topics of systemic, codified racism and legalized murder of Black people is brought up. It’s also brought up when we talk about gun control, but we’ll get to that issue later. While the Whataboutism is a derailment meant to throw off the stinging critique of racist state and corporate violence, I see the two issues as intricately connected. Those who ask what Black Lives Matter activists and those of us concerned about systemic violence are doing about Chicago interpersonal violence don’t really care, but I’ll answer anyway: We’re tackling systemic, state-sponsored and economic violence as a means of tackling interpersonal violence. For me, that includes mass political education about socialism—and its localized counterpart, reparations—which is a means to achieve justice in my and other communities on Chicago’s West and South Sides.

Socialism is the owning of the means of production of labor by the workers. Capitalism, what we live under now, is the owning of the means of production by the investors and industrialists (aka, the non-workers) and managed by the managerial class, including bosses, politicians, and police. Since White Supremacy was invented to stabilize, further, and enforce capitalism, the system is by nature racist[1] and sexist. Socialism is, thus, a fundamentally democratic economic and political system that leaves more room to antagonize and confront racism and sexism.

Interpersonal violence is often a manifestation of a lack of holistic actualization and purpose[2] and thus seeks purpose through domestic and street violence, through acts of hyper-masculinity, and through escalation of conflicts. It is severely impacted by living with untreated trauma, such as that of experiencing and witnessing violence up-close and not having the tools to deal with it. This helps create a perpetual cycle of internalized violence and the dealing of it necessitates a strategic restructuring of resources, education, and organization of society. To trust the police and jails to carry the heavy load is counterproductive as they are the first to teach the lesson that violence is a solution to conflict. I suggest that this reorganizing is best done through a socialist prism.

Socialism is broad but pliable and must be applied differently in different contexts through time. It would, by necessity, look different in the context of African Americans within Northern cities than it would for those in rural communities, and both would operate distinct than it would for white people in most of the world. Each region would have to both apply it to its location—its social, economic, and political realities and where the oppressed operate there—to the oppressed and marginalized, and connect it to wider, not just national but international struggles.

In the case of these communities in Chicago, the need for both socialism and a distinct version of socialism are necessitated by a context where the people have relied on underground economies due to racist blocking of conventional economics, have and continue to lose wealth and security through the ravages of anti-black racist subjugation and wage theft, and have been under severe police occupation. African American, Latinx and Indigenous communities are all due a hefty amount of reparations for the heavy monetary, physical, and psychological toll that racialized police enforcement, caging, and generational wage-theft have left. And it is the work of those on-the-ground opposed to interpersonal gun violence to point out these injustices as a means of repairing them.

There are other things that we do, of course. In several neighborhoods, mothers occupy heavy corners so that the police and gangs do not. We have regular walks for peace in the hard-hit areas. And we grieve and we plead. We grieve heavily and we plead hard. The care, the concern, the comforting are never reported on mass media, but poor people and people of color come together in ways that the hyper-individualized WASP culture can never comprehend. But we can only do so much alleviating the symptoms when the disease is all-consuming. We need justice, not band aids. And we certainly don’t need to make it worse by further disrupting communities through more and tougher incarcerations and deportations.

One of the biggest ironies is, however, this notion that policing has nothing to do with interpersonal violence, but when the law breaks down or just doesn’t work for you, you go outside of the law to deal with glitches. Sometimes you have the tools to deal with conflict in reasonable ways, but sometimes you don’t. Developmentally speaking, young people are less likely to have those tools, so it is up to society to ingrain them, to teach them, and to nurture and protect them. Restorative justice is a means of dealing with these conflicts maturely and without throwing away lives for foolish mistakes. So, we must work towards having a restorative justice framework throughout the school and community experience to give students tools and to work away from the prison industrial complex that begins for black and brown children at a very young age, often through the school system.

What we need now, what a locational socialism can give us are full employment and a guaranteed income; fully-invested schools and community hubs; the collectivization of private property into public and personal property as the community and individuals within the community need; free and full access and control of medical care; an end to food disparities and hunger; the decriminalization of people of color which includes the abolition of violent policing, the release of prisoners, and a complete restructuring of the justice and immigration system; the end of colonial and settler colonial wars and a complete destruction of the military industrial complex, out of which the seeds can be utilized for rebuilding areas ravaged by the dogs of war; the fruits of our labor; and a labor system that invests in rather than robs from the material, social, economic, bodily and psychological needs of our communities. If these points sound familiar, it’s because the Black Panther Party outlined these 51 years ago in its Ten Point Platform.

May we give it the time and attention it–and we–so radically deserve.

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[1] This is not to say that socialism is an automatic solution to racism, but that it contains tools and has space to institute anti-racist measurements more effectively and fully than capitalism. This post will try to give a brief run-down of some of the ways that socialism intersects with anti-racism, largely through the imagination of anti-racist socialists, leftists, and radicals.

[2] Often those involved in state or privatized violent policing of private property (police, security guards, military, paramilitary, and gang enforcers, for instance) find their purpose in personalized violence and are thus employed by those with private property interests to protect their property first and foremost, at the cost of lives.

Note: This post originally appeared on my Patreon page one month ago. If you support my work through there you can receive tons of exclusive and bonus content, as well as early previews such as this piece and chapters for upcoming books.

School Priorities: Protect the Assets

What I will say following is out of the deepest love and respect for the students, teachers, parents, and administration and staff of the Chicago Public Schools, as a former or current participant in all but the latter two categories.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is going to invest in CPS next year by an additional $80 million from City Hall. Did I say “invest”? I’m sorry, I mean, rather than restructuring the contract with the Chicago Police Department to remove its presence from within the schools and save the city 80,000,000 dollars a year, he’s going to put that money back into the School-to-Prison Pipeline, diverting it from other needed resources.

His plan has always been to take money earmarked for schools and children and give it to capitalists. He does this through expanding the privatization of schools (which doubles private investments within a seven year period); enforcing standardized tests (enriching the testing and curriculum industry while stunting student-driven pedagogy); expanding the hyper-localization of taxes that is known as TIF zones where half a billion dollars a year that should go to schools and parks is redirected to private investors and developers; and shutting down fifty schools in poor Black and Brown communities by ultimatum before selling off half of the properties apart from the input of the community.

Emanuel brought in a CEO for CPS, Forrest* Claypool, who knows so little about education that he needs a Chief Education Officer simply because his main skill–and the reason he was brought in–is dismantling unions. It’s instructive, in fact, that there is a CEO and similar positions heading the operations at the Chicago Public Schools. It says much about the corporation model that neoliberal school systems seek to emulate and where their heads are at. It’s not in the interest of the children. No, in this model, students are no less than points of profit, items to be consumed. Teachers are merely overpaid workers who must be crushed and brought to heel.

Rahm fired an award-winning and high-performing principal for challenging his agenda. Meanwhile, special education classes and students are left to the wind.

But at least they’ll still have police occupation in their supposed safe-haven. The same police that are woefully untrained in even basic developmental psychology. The same police who ride around wearing Trump MAGA hats.

But that’s what police are for, no? To protect private property. The neoliberalization of public schooling is derived from the commodification of students. Students are assets and police in the schools are making sure the assets don’t step out of line. That’s for the bourgeoisie to do.

 


*Yes, that first name is apt.

 

Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Double-Edged Sword of Racist Environmental Catastrophe

Global warming and its resultant ecological disasters are merely collateral damage to the environmental disaster that is global capitalism. It’s interesting that for decades the mass messaging has been worried about so-called ecoterrorism. But terrorism is a political name of a distinct violence that functionally distracts from the heightened and broad violence that imperialist and capitalist destruction wrought to communities of color. And when it comes to the ecology, this violence is double-edged.

Because, first, the repercussions of ecological damage hit communities of color first, most, and the hardest. We see that in the warming of the Atlantic Ocean and the hurricanes that have devastated the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, rocking hardest the communities of color that have little protection and infrastructure as they are put in harms’ way. We see that in neighborhoods where garbage dumps and smoke stacks are piled and children of color face enhanced lung disease, such as Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, or Gary, IN, just across the border. In the placement of people of color near toxic dumps or vice versa. In the state of Michigan’s treatment of the water in Flint. People of color are sacrificed to the gods of efficiency because White Supremacy will not allow otherwise.

The second wave that eco-terrorism is wrought in communities of color is that they are then victimized for their survival even as their recovery is dramatically slowed. They are blamed for not leaving beforehand when they have fewer resources to do so. They are qualified as “looters” while white looting is overlooked or sympathized with. Recently, a White news reporter riding atop Houston in a helicopter bragged about calling the police on people of color requisitioning emergency supplies from a shuttered grocery store. We saw this in how Haitians were treated as children by aid agencies and yet, for all their hand-wringing and fund-raising after the earthquake, left to rot by multinational corporations and their NGO wings. Communities of color are given less sympathy and thus less resources with which to alleviate their immediate needs after disasters.

Puerto Rico perfectly encapsulates both ends of this manufactured dilemma. Long before Hurricane Maria came along, the island colony of the US was put in the line of debt and neoliberal privatization to such an effect that it was facing the largest bankruptcy in the history of the US public bond market at $123 billion[1] already back in May of this year, eight times larger than Detroit’s. As a result of this mounting debt and the pressure to pay it off, not only are its beaches being privatized (and thus denied to citizens) and its schools being closed (along with drastic cuts to teacher pay and shutting of other essential services), its infrastructure is sabotaged. The fact that the electrical grid collapsed under the weight of the storm is not due to the negligence of the Puerto Rican people, but to how debt is structured among people of color and the colonized. Haiti had no infrastructure to deal with natural disasters due to its economy being routed towards paying for debts as a two hundred-year punishment for its own Black rebellion against White empire.

By Eric Pancer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Racism is not only the reason communities of color like Puerto Rico are more susceptible to environmental disasters, but also the reason their recovery from these catastrophes is trashed. Unlike when the Wall St. banks and lenders were insured by the United States after they destroyed the housing market and countless lives, Puerto Rico, a protectorate of the US, is expected to pay debts it could not before the hurricanes. Its debt racked up under a Democratic president and it’s likely that a Democratic president wouldn’t have fundamentally altered or alleviate it. It just so happens that this openly White Supremacist and tactless president let the cat out of the bag by tweeting—while the island was under water and facing months without electrical power—that its first responsibility is to pay back Wall St.  Trump would not only blame the country for its own debt, but then, while failing to give the country the resources it needs for the people’s survival, called them lazy.

Haiti faced similar critiques and was criticized as too poor to prevent or treat the damage left by the earthquake in 2010, yet their blackness and abject poverty were tokenized for fundraising. Thus, even sympathetic aid organizations like Red Cross and the Clinton Foundation neglected or overthrew Haitian input while collecting hundreds of millions of dollars only to leave Haitians little better than before the quake. A Clinton donor, for instance, spent six billion dollars of raised money on building a handful of ‘hurricane-proof’ trailers that left homeless occupants sick from formaldehyde. Nine hundred Haitians died after Hurricane Matthew hit last year. Hillary Clinton, who claimed to be leading the response to the crisis, would as Secretary of State take the side of industrialists seeking to further exploit Haitian workers by working to deny pay increase demands and intervening in their elections. This after George W Bush assisted in a coup of democratically-elected President Aristide, following in his father’s coup of the same in the early 90’s.

We’ve yet to see how NGO’s will react in PR, but we know that banks were offering aid by merely compounding and prioritizing more debt to further consume the country and its public spaces. As a 100 year-old colony of the United States, however, Puerto Rico has very little agency in its own governance and largely relies on the US body politic, an engagement that they have no control over as the island has no representative vote.

To contrast, the neighboring socialist island nation of Cuba—undoubtedly also very poor—takes absolute, comprehensive precautions against these same tropical storms, thus facing significantly fewer lives lost than mainland US even as it takes the brunt end of these hurricanes. The country prioritizes prevention and protecting its most vulnerable people , whereas the capitalist nation state of the US undoubtedly prioritizes debt and economic growth, both at the expense of people of color. Cuba protects personal property, bodies, and affects while it’s clear that the corporations that run the US care only about their private property.

It’s about priorities, and global capitalism is perpetual war against communities of color.

 

[1] Nine times the size of Detroit, which then became another colony for the White ruling class to do with as they pleased.

A Deferred Dream Action

When the Dream Act was being watered-down, stalled, heavily-militarized, rejected, watered-down some more, and rejected again, this heavily affected many of my clients, students at a community college. These were young adults who came here as children, had lived highly respectable lives, went to college and tried to do the right thing, according to the unrealistic, hubristic standards of the American Dream. Many of them—born in but coming from Latin American but sometimes Middle Eastern, South Asian, and the African regions—were relieved when then-President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The DACA program was a temporary stop-gap measure for young immigrants (Generation 1.5, and under 32 years of age, as of 2012) who come here as children, graduated from high school, know English, and have completely spotless records that allowed them to register every two years for the chance to obtain an official state identification. These are students who traversed the traps of a country and society that highly problematize and criminalize them. They are raised in an environment of fear and secrecy, not necessarily of their own communities or families (though like any other demographic, that can be the case as well) but of being ripped from their families, communities, homes, and often the only country they know.

This existential fear is not a result of their innate badness or goodness or anything else. For immigration is a necessary lifeblood to both industry and to global capitalism. Yes, often immigrants are used as pawns to drive down the cost of labor, but that is to say that capitalists will not pay living wages and will use others to wedge in those “costs” – and further drive their theft – any way they can. At first it was indentured servanthood, then chattel slavery, then Jim Crow, then the Bracero program. Initially, the program was to bring in seasonal laborers (aka, guest workers) across the border, largely for agricultural work. When the Braceros began to settle permanently, have families, and organize their labor, then the corporations and their puppet state began striking back. In 1954, Eisenhower’s Immigration and Naturalization Services began the “Wetback Program” to round up immigrant workers who were not covered under the Bracero Program. Ten years later, when Mexican immigrants made up a full 15% of the farmhand labor force, the program ended as unions, churches, and competing demanded that both nationalized and guest workers’ wages be raised.

Immigrant rights were raised when Cesar Chavez’s joined together with Filipino migrant workers to protest grape growers’ lowering wages on the Filipino’s to undercut Mexican wages. The groups recognized that they were being pit against each other and worked together to demand fair wages from the landowners. And it worked. For fifteen years, while their wages were never at-par with the median for non-farmhands, they rose considerably. Seasonal farm laborers enjoyed a massive uptick in material conditions as a result of cross-sector solidarity and heavy organizing.

I point this out not simply as a history lesson from merely one group of workers and only a couple of immigrant groups, though the past informs the present and the future. But in light of the fact that the political parties will only serve capitalism and in doing so will seek out to destroy communities that do not meet their needs or have outserved their purpose—this includes immigrant families. Because they seek cheap labor that they can easily exploit we find this alternation between temporary, compromised rights under Democrats and permanent raids under the openly xenophobic and nativist Republicans (especially under Trump).

While DACA gave many young adults a fresh hope and materially benefited them with access to jobs, forms of valid ID, and more affordable college,[1] it only accounts for 10% of the most ‘exceptional’ immigrants (those who arrived by the age of 16, are younger than 32, have graduated high school and do not have a criminal record) and thus places all immigrants in an impossible situation of having to be super role models while under intense scrutiny in a highly criminalized climate in order to be accepted by the wider society, or to live and operate largely underground.

Additionally, the temporary fix that is DACA relied upon the idea that Obama would be replaced with someone of a like mind. The fact that this like-minded person was 1) facing off against an explicitly racist nativist and 2) herself having just repeated an astoundingly horrid nativist sentiment regarding refugee children should have alerted us all to the fact that the work, even the work for that dream-like 10%, was not complete, would not be near complete. The fact that now Donald Trump, Steve Miller, and all the fascists at ICE (and everyone who works at ICE is a fascist; don’t @ me!) have access to all this biometric information recipients is terrifying and incredibly irresponsible on the part of Obama. Further, that even the most-left-leaning national politician, Bernie Sanders, repeated nativist rhetoric about immigrants as themselves actors in lowering wages means that we are going to have to look beyond an electoral strategy.

We are left with the brazen fact that our politicians are failing us, that we must rely on each other. That capitalists only care about profit margins means that whatever actions they are willing to take for immigrant rights will be just enough to maintain their machines and not disrupt them. It is up to us, workers, to band together to make sure that everyone, regardless of race, gender, where they were born, or immigration status, is treated fairly and justly, has enough to eat, adequate income, a decent place to live, freedom from oppression and constant surveillance, and sufficient security. This cannot happen if we allow Nativism, White Supremacy, and Patriarchy—the tools of capitalism—to organize us. It cannot happen if we are mobilized through Islamophobia[2] or the impetus of a police state.

Together, fighting for and with the marginalized amongst us, on their terms, we have nothing to lose but our chains.

——-

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[1] Including many of my student clients, some of whom came out of hiding to go back to school

[2] http://www.rawstory.com/2017/09/bank-has-entire-arab-american-family-arrested-after-father-tries-to-deposit-large-check-from-home-sale/

Evangelicals: The Sheepdogs of Capitalism [preview]

The following is from a long essay published on my Patreon page. To read the whole thing, you’ll need to become a subscriber. But you’ll get so much more, including books, chapters, poems, and other fun essays you can’t find anywhere else.

The lagger in this study is organized religion, which by necessity of sacredness takes its sweet time to make change. Since religion needs to codify through theological and linguistic practice, its values tend to run behind the elite culture it mediates for. God doesn’t change, except when God does. And God always needs justification, and for that justification to spread, for the text is sacred and God is eternal. However, this lagging provides a function in capitalism, that of the sheep dog. Preachers and religious functionaries help to keep the regular folk in line until they are ready to be absorbed into capitalism’s newer schemes.

In my experience, the organized religion most closely aligned with capitalism is White Evangelicalism. Evangelicalism is a pan-Protestant movement that has erased denominational differences (similarly to how whiteness has erased ethnic and class distinctions between Euro-Americans) to focus on a salvation moment that relies on an hyper-individualistic relationship with Jesus. This in tune with the fact that Evangelicalism is rooted among the White suburban mid-management bourgeois class puts it at a unique position to serve the interests of the capitalist class while maintaining forms of power within the state and worker systems.

Prisons As Rape

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A common argument against the abolition of prisons is the question of what to do with rapists if we can’t put them in jail. And yes, that points to a group of questions that needs to be answered if we are to fully do away with the prison system: What do we with violent people? How do we prevent violence? How do we seek justice and recompense?

These are demanding questions, but one thing is sure. The answers do not lie within but are rather opposed to the current criminal justice and prison system. In fact, the criminal justice system has nothing to do with justice, with making things right, or even with violence prevention. What it does and does well is to promote and encourage violence among certain demographics (namely those targeted by the prison industrial complex). And rape is a key pattern in this. Estimates vary, but roughly 20% of incarcerated people were raped while in prison or jail—whether from other prisoners or from guards.

The criminal justice system does not stop rape. As it should be clear by now, under six percent of reported rapes lead to an arrest, and 0.7% are ever convicted.

Incarceration does not stop rapes.

Rather than discouraging rape, it makes it clear that rape is a tool to punish those that transgress against the law. If people were serious about ending rape or at least preventing rape, they would close the criminal justice system

The same people often asking what to do about rapists tend to think of rape as a tool of retribution. Thus they joke and make light of the fact of sexual violence while simultaneously showing their hand that rape is a preferable type of punishment for certain people, those belonging to these demographics and thus deemed undesirable.

Abolish prisons. Because prison exasperates rape.

Back in the DPRK; You Don’t Know How Lucky You Be

North Korea, or as it’s officially known, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), has been living as a war zone for the last 60+ years. It has undergone a genocidal project begun when the US bombed and wiped away a fifth of the population and continuing under increasing efforts to sanction it to oblivion by the UN Security Council and the US. The country, its peoples, and its leaders have been the constant butt of racist demagoguery within the United States media (you can see that clearly in comedies such as Team America: World Police and The Interview). And the mass media — the same people who gave us Trump and then lamented when he turned on them — has been fever-pitch promoting all-out war with the country for basically trying to defend itself with a handful of nuclear bombs (with limited range). Now Kim Jong Un has threatened to bomb Guam, a colony of the United States with a large military presence (large as in it accounts for  1/3 of the island, 10% of the population but leaves no revenue for the island country) if the US continues to press it.

The United States can destroy the world several times over with its range of bombs and has actually detonated a couple on top of large civilian centers. Who has or is holding us accountable? We are literally the World’s Police. American Exceptionalism in foreign policy also means we cannot try Trump for the war crimes he’s already committed and is now brazenly threatening. Thanks Obama!

Robert Jeffres, the tyrant of First Baptist Church of Dallas and pastor to the tyrants, suggested that God has ordained Trump to take out Kim Jung Un. But what if–and hear me out here–what if it’s the other way around? What if God has ordained Kim to take out Trump?

While we’re infused in propaganda on every side (and without a doubt, the DPRK engages in some nasty propfiction as well) genocidal propaganda is the worst and needs to be countered the most. The idea that Kim Jong Un is hell-bent on unilaterally striking the US or our allies is one such piece of blatant agitprop that must be shut down in any and all directions. As long as it is allowed to pulse through mass media, in bedrooms and boardrooms, and especially in both houses of horrors,  then we are responsible for the deaths of upwards of 25,370,000 human beings and every animal within the realm of the DPRK–not to mention other regional casualties such as in South Korea (Republic of Korea – ROK) or those who suffer due to promised retaliation. This after being largely responsible for the deaths of 20% of the North Korean population after our desire to wipe communism from the entire peninsula.

Retaliation isn’t the key word, as it makes it sound as if Kim and the leadership of the DPRK are merely pissy and violent by nature, but it hints at the uneven power dynamics here. The United States is the only country in the world that operates on a Strike First platform. It regularly performs -either directly through its military or indirectly through its intelligence and backdoor negotiations- coups and regime changes throughout the world. It also has a thousand times the nuclear weapons that the DPRK has.

Speaking of CIA agitprop, regime changes, wars of aggression in Asia, and Dick pics…

However, the US has historically and currently talked about its nuclear arsenal in terms of protection and last-option alternative, as a measure of prevention. And for whatever reason, the world rarely questions it. Yet, here is Kim saying the same exact thing, but without the rampaging, world-conquering history that the United States has, and it’s reported in Western media as if he’s crazy and ready to blow up your grandma and her doggy if they look at him funny.

But it’s not Kim who ordered a Tomahawk missile strike on Syria, killing hundreds of civilians, under completely false pretenses. It’s not Kim who was unquestionably praised and “finally became our president” when he killed those families by the same press telling us Kim is unhinged and dangerous. And it’s not the DPRK that sold weapons and gives complicit support to Saudi Arabia in its decimation of Yemen, killing tens of thousands. So why in tf’ing world would anybody trust the US, let alone Donald J Trump on this, but not the DPRK and Kim Jong Un?

If nepotism is your answer, pfft. Like the US isn’t run by the nepotist class? At this point, the entire discussion by US pundits and politicians is nothing more than an unsolicited d*ck pick, but with far more dangerous ramifications. Get on the phone and tell your senators to put that thing away.

———————-

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An Open Invitation!

alwinaboutique (9)

After much thinking and consternation of how to best yield my gifts (which obviously are not prized by capitalism, at least not at the rate I’m able to produce content), I’ve begun a Patreon account. Being patronized by my own private Medicis allows me to give you access to exclusive content, including chapters from upcoming books, long essays, already published ebooks, and new poems. I’ll continue to publish free content here, on the Medium blog, on Twitter, and even at the Patreon page (such as this short blog on North Korea and our own war crimes), but getting paid allows me to write more and gooder.

For as little as $5 a month, you can have full access to several books, chapters, poems, essays, and more.

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